After COP-21 - where does nuclear stand?

8 January 2016

It was entirely predictable that the nuclear industry achieved precisely nothing at the recent Paris COP-21 talks and in the subsequent international agreement.

The agreement reached in Paris was maybe remarkable in that 196 countries managed to agree about something, particularly after the fiasco at the previous talks in Copenhagen, but what was achieved lacks any teeth.

Amongst all the predictable back-slapping that accompanied the accord is the fact that the only guarantee is continued high fossil fuel emissions. The onus is therefore upon the major economic powers, notably the United States, China and the European Union, to define a feasible path to carbon-free energy and drag the rest of the world along.

Analysis of the submissions of the 196 governments that signed up to the Paris agreement, demonstrating their own individual schemes on how to reduce national carbon emissions, show that nearly all of them exclude nuclear power. The future is likely to repeat the experience of 2015 when 10 new reactors came into operation worldwide but 8 shut down.

So as things stand, the industry is essentially running to stand still. The additional 1000 or 2000 reactors needed by 2050 for nuclear to take up the place allocated for it in the energy scenarios are a long way away.

The answer is that nuclear has got to re-establish (or indeed change) its brand image. People within the industry have talked about this continuously since the Fukushima accident, but little has been done save for focusing on the environmental case.

It is becoming increasingly clear that it is the understanding of radiation and reform of the international regime which protects the public which is the most crucial. So long as any incremental dose of radiation, however small, is regarded as potentially harmful, the nuclear industry has little chance of fulfilling its potential.

The challenge is essentially to get the linear no threshold (LNT) theory of radiation exposure consigned to the dustbin of history.

The full version of this article is set to be published in the February 2016 issue of Nuclear Engineering International, which will be distributed at WM2016.

About the authorSteve Kidd is an independent nuclear consultant and economist with East Cliff Consulting. The first half of his career was spent as an industrial economist within British industry, followed by nearly 18 years in senior positions at the World Nuclear Association and its predecessor organisation, the Uranium Institute.




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